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Quotes from Sean Payton's Friday Press Conference

Sean Payton spoke to the New Orleans media at the Ochsner Sports Performance Center on Friday, Dec. 22

New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton
Post-Practice Media Availability
Friday, December 22, 2017

How much do you think this Pro Bowl, for Mark Ingram II*, is the culmination of so many years of success? Maybe he has been overlooked or underrated until now? *"I feel like it is a benchmark for players in general in our league because they know it's coming from their peers, it's coming from other coaches, (and) it's coming from the fans. I think the same way for Cam (Jordan) or anyone that gets voted in. It's well-deserved and there is a lot of hard work that goes into it. It is a significant benchmark for players."

*How rare is it to see the increasing success that he's had because this has been his best year and it's already year seven? *"In the early part of his career, he had injuries that slowed down his progress, but last year was a really good year for him. I said this a few months earlier, Both Mark and Alvin (Kamara) benefited from Adrian (Peterson's) presence. When you get a guy like that who's working. In general that group in general got strong and close. The offensive line's playing well, there's a lot that always goes into an award like that."

*To what degree did the competitiveness of that group and that early trio impact their development? *"I think a lot. That would be for any of us in our industries. When someone else is hired and you look across the desk or table, I think it truly brings out the best in everyone and that's a good example of it. Before we ever hit the field, they were in there running and lifting (together). I think it was very good."

You've had a next man up mentality all year so what do you lose with Kenny Vaccaro out?"He is a starter on defense, a really good force player, a good tackler, and a guy who's around the ball. Obviously, we have other safeties and those guys will have to be ready. The sum total of the snaps missed will be made up by a group of players.

What do you think the biggest step that Vonn Bell has made from his rookie season to where he is now?"I think just the overall knowledge of what we are doing. There's more scheme and more time than maybe the college (game and practice limitations) allows. You might do X,Y, and Z in college and now there are other little nuances that go into not only the length of the season, but the nickel and all of the packages. I think it's just learning the volume and becoming better at it."

*What do you think the biggest key has been in terms of making 16 interceptions this year? *"I believe it goes hand in hand. If you're creating pressure and affecting the quarterback, your chances go up. If not, then it becomes harder to cover. There is a balance there. A defensive secondary benefits from a good rush and the rush benefits from tight coverage, if (the quarterback) is holding the ball. One of the things Atlanta does well is they give you a lot of man-to-man snaps, the separation doesn't happen right away, you're holding the ball for a tick longer, and it becomes harder to block. I think those combinations."

*How much more prepared do you feel from an install standpoint as a team and a coaching staff this week compared to the short week? *"There is a little bit more calmness to the schedule because it is routine that we are used to. Nonetheless though, when you play a Thursday game, when it's a division opponent, there are things that you know. In the case of Atlanta, the offensive system is the same and the defensive system is the same. You're still doing your work, the hours just might not be as crammed during the gameplanning."

*Speaking of the gameplan, because of all the injuries in the previous matchup, how much did you feel like you had to deviate away from that plan that night? *"Some. A lot of it is it is not the gameplan that's getting deviated from, but some of the people that are in the plan that are different (from the original plan), like today. That happens and that is why you are not just practicing your frontline starters, you are practicing those players that could very well be in the game. Part of that's just adjusting."

*How much did losing (Alvin) Kamara take away from that gameplan? *"The plan is still the plan. Tommylee (Lewis) catches a touchdown pass and that was Alvin (Kamara's) play to give you an example. Mark (Ingram) is receiving more (snaps). It's not like we are running a different set of plays, it's just what you're doing with the people on the field."

*The takeaways are up this year, how much of that has to do with just getting playmakers and guys who can not only get there, but also do something with the ball when they get there? *"It is probably a combination of both. Part of it is energy and hustle to the ball. We spent a lot of time on trying to take the ball away. How do you do that, how does a quarterback carry the ball, how does a running back carry the ball, how do you create fumbles? I think our league over the last ten years, has shifted. You could go back to Lovie Smith and if you wanted to look at the St. Louis Rams defense, then the Bears, and then you started seeing (Charles) Tillman and these guys that 15 or 20 years ago you were (just) tackling. There's just so much more that goes into ball security that's changed in a short amount of time."

*Based on the way the Falcons offense is running right now, how would you compare the way they are using their running backs now to when Kyle Shannahan was running the offense because? *"It's a good question. I think last week, there were a few third down conversions they were able to get to (Devonta) Freeman. Maybe some primary, some off his primary and checking it down. I would say the one noticeable thing in the last five or six weeks is their rushing totals and numbers have really spiked, and I think defensively, they're doing a good job defending the run. They do a really good job with this wide-zone (scheme), and they get on their tracks, and have to be able to hit your blocks, and be prepared for the speed at which it happens. Freeman had one of his better games last week and you could see the speed and explosiveness when he cuts it up. Your tackling and all those things have to be on point. When they involve he or (Tevin) Coleman in the passing game, there are times where even in our game against them two weeks ago where they try to bring one of them out of the backfield and now much like we might try to do with Alvin (Kamara), you get a matchup on a linebacker or really not a favorable matchup then, you have to be mindful of that."

*Do you feel like you see that more out of an empty or more out of an I Formation? *"I see it some out of one back where maybe it's pony where there's two backs in and then one back detaches and then some from empty (sets)."

With the injuries at tight end, how much can Zach Line fill some of those roles?"To some degree, but he's not an in-line player or an on the ball player. We've got enough depth there that we feel like we'll be able to mix and match what we want to do by personnel."

*Given the way the first game against the Falcons played out, what points of emphasis are you going to offer for officials going into this one? *"None. It's a veteran crew and I would say I did a poor job of letting that…There's things that you can control and things that you can't. We talk all the time to our players about controlling what you can control and that would apply to me as well."

*Has (Devonte) Freeman emerged as one of your biggest challenges every year? *"Yes. I have good company, with whoever (what team each week) is playing him. He is an outstanding player. You watch the way he runs and he's explosive, and he's been that way. We've seen that for the better part of his emergence."

*What really distinguishes him? *"I would say his vision and his balance. He hits the hole fast, so I think he has really good instincts and he's explosive."

*With so many playoff scenarios over the last few weeks, do you like to embrace the 'if we win this week, we'll need a little help, but we could wrap up the division title' or how do you look at that? *"I think the playoffs have started really. I say that and you guys tell me how they have not, but this is that type of game and the focus is just on this game. There was a week or two ago where you were watching games and you are always paying attention to your division. When I was in New York, the perfect weekend was everybody in the NFC East lost and the Jets lost. All four things happened. All the divisions feel the same way, you want to gain on your division, but as you start looking at these other games that have playoff implications, it gets too complicated (to predict). It gets back to what can you control and this certainly is a significant game, with regards to the (NFC) South."

*When do the playoffs start for you and this team? *"Five minutes ago, when someone asked that question."

With Michael Mauti*, you can love a person's character and work ethic, but it can only go so far because if they can't produce then you can't keep them. On a personal level, could you explain the gratification that you get from seeing him be able to play on special teams and on defense? *"I think the very essence of coaching is you root for everyone that's in camp working. You really do, you want to see them play their best. That's our job as teachers. That is what we do. When someone has adversity like he had which a little unique, the surgery and the procedure that he had, it was unprecedented. There was no example of anyone that played (with that condition following surgery). You would say maybe what was a longshot became a longer shot. He came back in, we had him, obviously in camp, and then we released him. When he came back in for the workout though, we went in with an open mind, but the workout was exceptional for him. He moved well, he cut his weight, he had been training down in Pensacola, where he disappeared for however long it was. I don't know that we thought we were going to see that, but after we saw it, everyone at the workout was like, 'that was pretty good.' We went by what we saw."

*The numbers didn't work out in September, I'm not sure what your expectations were for his story back then, but it's turned put pretty well relatively speaking? *"One of the challenges is removing the emotions from the roster decisions and that was the case in both situations when he was released and when he was signed. You don't go through what he went through and to be ready in training camp. He was in shape, but he was still recovering, and probably not where he felt he should have been. It was understandable, but to his credit the rehab continued. When we brought him back, he was impressive."

*Do you think he's a good as he's ever been or maybe better than he's ever been because of he's been dealing with this even back at Penn State? *"It would be hard to say. That's a better question for him."

*With so much on the line and this being a longtime rivalry between these two teams, do you play up the emotional aspect of this game or do you treat it like any other game when you deal with the players? *"I think you have to be smart about it. During the workweek, you get into a routine. I think you really harp on the fundamentals of what wins and loses. The energy will be there and all those things, but it's still the executing. Handling the momentum swings (will be important) because in every game like this, this pendulum is going to swing back and forth. Being able to handle it when it's in your favor, but also handling it when it's going against you."

*Do you have an example in your mind during this series where Julio (Jones) was contained during the first game in a past year and then during the second game, he came back and played much better as an example for Marshon (Lattimore)? *"It's a division opponent. I did say to the Atlanta media the other day, it's been a while since these two teams played where both (teams) had something significant on the line. You could point to any NFC South team and say this is a rivalry. When we first came here it was Tampa Bay. Those guys had won a Super Bowl and that was the rivalry we made of it. Whatever happened in that first game certainly didn't mean it was going to happen again to your point. I would say oftentimes these games in the division like this are very uniquely different."

*I'm just trying to speak to the fact that Julio (Jones) is probably going to have a lot of pride.
"Absolutely. A lot of it's out some of the individual matchups' control. Take our game for instance a week and a half ago, we had a low snap count total, our time of possession was down, and we didn't do a good job on third down. Hence, you do not get the handoffs you want for Mark (Ingram) or Alvin (Kamara). You do not get the total number of snaps to get into some of the other stuff you were wanting to do. I think that's an important number in this game, the third down number. Each one of them unfolds differently."

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